UNEARTHING PASTORAL AESTHETICS IN BASH AMUNENI’S THERE IS A LUNATIC IN EVERY TOWN

Bash S. Amuneni’s reputation as a spoken word poet belies his competence as a page poet. Spoken word poetry is often regarded as pop culture because of its populist appeal and loose language and form thus to be known as a spoken word poet is to be considered a semi-poet or an unserious poet. However, Amuneni’s debut collection of poems, There is a Lunatic in Every Town (2016) betrays the notion that spoken word poets do not write deep poetry. Amuneni in this collection proves that spoken word poets can write quality poetry too if not better than many page poets. The eighty-three-page collection is divided into three parts mainly “Resonance”, “Intimacy” and “The Human Condition” and each part deals with interrelated themes that reechoes the thread of lunatism which forms the spine of the collection. 

There is a Lunatic in Every Town is a philosophical reflection on life, death, love and the realities that constantly remind us of the temporality of our humanity. Even though the title would make a reader assume that the collection is about lunatics or lunatism, it is in fact a metaphor that illustrates the alternative or fluctuating realties that define our human experience. While we think that we are medically sane, society sometimes forces us to reevaluate our sanity through shocking events that shatter our preconceived notions of sanity. How can anyone be sane living in a society in which life is worthless and death is only a whisper away and some people have taken it upon themselves to bring an end to the world? Boko Haram, banditry, kidnapping, herdsmen attacks and ritual killings are some of the abnormalities that questions our collective sanity. And all of this is aided by misgovernance and failed leadership. This is the context in which Amuneni’s problematisation of the sociopolitical realities of society draws its inspiration from. 

Living in a dystopian society has the propensity to leave one in a perpetual state of insanity and to escape the lunatics tormenting our consciousness, Amuneni offers solace in the consoling lyricism of poetry and the innocence of rural life surrounded by nature’s splendours. This assertion is amplified by the pastoralism runs through the collection in such poems as “Akwanga” (p17-1), “My mother’s Compound” (24), “The Man Who Never Died” (p.35-36) and “Native Affection.” In these poems, the reader encounters romanticization of pastoral aesthetics woven in evocating metaphors and imageries that sooths the mind. In the poem “Akwanga”, the poetic persona celebrates the rich culture and cuisine of the people. He speaks of the love of a grandmother “Kaka” who provides comfort and warm that is perhaps lacking in the city. The persona is fascinated by the food and hospitality offered by mother Akwanga who is described as a woman via the pronoun “she” and the persona regard himself as a wanderer who returns to the warmth of his “Kaka” for the peace he never finds through his wanderings. The first stanza of the poem captures this reflection more succinctly.

She defiles my wanderings—

in lively sprouts of tulips and moringa

Mada Sei Gir steals me at dusk

with seduction

The persona goes on to describe his memory of Akwanga through the Samiya that his grandmother offers him in a “freshly etched kwarya” and the way of life of the people characterised by young girls or women tying wrappers and hacking stones for a living. Akwanga is a semi-rural town defined by its many rocks and hills afford it a scenic view which the persona describes in last stanza of the poem thus,

Akwanga comes in silhouettes against series of nappy

hills 7

Mada, Numa, Rukubi

guardians of dawn

hacked slowly in shallow bits and dust

stone hunters scratching skin for tokens

In the poem, “My Mother’s Compound” the persona celebrates his mother’s love and the elation he derives from being in her company, he also reminisces on his childhood life with his sibling while living with his mother. Towards the end of the poem, he mourns about leaving home to acquires to become a man. We see a perpetual longing for home and all the innocence lost to adulthood. In the opening stanza, the persona declares his excitement for returning once again to a place of solace and bliss when he posits that,

So, I have come home

to the sweet scent of dust

the pureness of waters

drawn from your guts

The motif of exile and return to home is reminiscent of the grand motif of “return to source” which permeated early modern African poetry. The Negritude philosophy that defined early African poetry in precolonial and the colonial era seems to run through Amuneni’s poetry as we constantly encounter a romanticization with the past as shown the selected poems. For example, in the last stanza of this poem, the persona attempts to give reasons why he had to leave home in search of greener pastures but continues to relish the bliss of home thus he speaks of home as the essence of his being. This supposition is collaborated by the line, “I have come home” which indicates a return from exile to the source where everything is peaceful and beautiful. The last stanza supports this opinion,

 I have come home

Where we bragged over

morsels of pounded yam

and chunks of skewed meat

in a pot of a tasty mix

to be the best men

the land would ever see

we stashed courage in our thoughts

and travelled distant lands

to earn the fatness of skills

just to come back home

“The Man Who Never Died” is a tribute to the persona’s deceased father whom the persona remembers as a jolly good fellow who lived to the fullest but also was a stream of wisdom and inspiration to his children. However, worthy of note and relevant to this analysis is the allusion to days of innocence and serenity that the invokes. The persona speaks of the exceptional moments shared with his father through his love for culture and farming. He speaks of farmstead, cornrows and owuna-the masquerade who has both a spiritual and entertainment connotation for the persona. Why does the persona remember his father via these images? They remind him of a simple life that was defined by the things that many consider ordinary. The pastoral life x-rayed in this poem serves to illustrate the significance of a simple life that was not encumbered the high expectation or city or modern living. The persona informs of this in the stanza bellow,      

He would pluck at a neighbour’s corn stalk and smell

the hairy yellow flickers

tell you: of how the harvest would bloom late

because the rains have been delayed

we would nest at the bank of a full stream in August

and watch a wayward floating trunk gliding

His eyes would sparkle at the sight of a disappearing

rainbow

as he pulls at a running fishing hook-line

The persona paints a romantic picture of a life that was replete with happy ordinary moments that now makes a difference in his adult life upon recollection. This position is further actuated by the persona in the stanza bellow,

My father talks tall of many masquerade fights

and gun salute he earned

beating a class of eighty-three to master the white-

man’s ways

My father wandered on this land he found

in the wake of an ancestral quest

The poem ends on a salutary note as the persona acknowledges his father’s influence as he declares that he lives in honour of his father. The poem is a beautiful elegy that honours the memory of the persona’s life and achievements of which he is one. Amuneni’s employment of imagery is remarkable and it is a manifestation of poetic maturity. Imageries concretise the message of a poem and to employ them effortlessly is a mark of a gifted poet.

The language of Amuneni’s poetry is evocative and powerful. He is able to capture the reader’s mind in a critical manner that requires deep contemplation. An example of Amuneni’s brevity with language is found in the second stanza of the opening poem to the collection “We Would Continue the Conversation” in which the persona invites the reader to a conversation on the essence of our being and the nuances of life. The stanza is hereby represented for emphasis,

When the sun settles

behind the hill of doubts

and hurt can be traced

in honest batting of eyelids

carving a broken trail of tears

down your cheeks

that carry with them

a cold clog of an unsettling truce

In conclusion, to read Amuneni’s poetry is to embark on a life’s journey and to explore the many facets of existence. He provokes, incites and rebukes the reader to consciousness with his lacerating metaphors and refreshing language. Amuneni’s poetry deserves more critical attention than it currently enjoys. He is an important poet of this era.

Paul Liam is a poet and literary critic with several published works to his credit.  

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